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Iraqi Governing Council Lobbies US Congress for Funding - 2003-09-30

Members of the Iraqi Governing Council met with U.S. Senate leaders on Capitol Hill Tuesday to press for congressional passage of President Bush's $87 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Members of the U.S.-appointed transitional council underscored the importance of the funding package to the future of Iraq, particularly the $20.3 billion to be used to rebuild the country.

Many congressional Democrats, concerned about the growing U.S. deficit, have suggested making the reconstruction funding a loan, to be repaid in the future with Iraqi oil revenues. It is an idea also embraced by a number of Republicans.

But the interim president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Ahmad Chalabi, says he prefers the money be in the form of a grant, for both practical and symbolic reasons.

"A loan would be an added burden on the Iraqi people as they are reconstructing, and it would also show the United States was less than sincere on the issue of freedom," he explained. "A grant would emphasize completely the sincerity of the United States, that they came to liberate the Iraqi people and to have established democracy and freedom in Iraq."

Bush administration officials agree that the United States should not add to Iraq's debt burden, which they estimate is as high as $200 billion.

Another member of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, said offering the money in the form of a loan would, in his words, reopen the debate about whether the United States invaded Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein or to gain control of Iraqi oil reserves, the second largest in the world. That, he argued, should be avoided at all costs.

On a separate issue, council members and Senate leaders discussed the drafting Iraq's new constitution.

Mr. Pachachi said, "We made it absolutely clear that our main aim is to create a viable democracy in Iraq, a democracy that will guarantee fundamental human rights, a democracy that is based on the supremacy of law, a democracy that will prohibit torture and unreasonable punishment, a democracy also that will guarantee that there will be peaceful change of power through periodic elections and subordination of the armed forces to the elected civilian authority."

Mr. Pachachi did not specify a timeframe for crafting a new constitution. Iraqi officials in Baghdad are quoting as saying it could take at least a year to complete the document, twice as long as the target set by the United States.